As a child at Saint Rose of Lima in Murfreesboro, I was always captivated by the complex mystery of the Easter story. What often struck me the most was Luke's proclamation that though Jesus was risen from the dead, he still bore his crucifixion wounds. In the Christian tradition, Jesus's scars never fade. They will be the wounds he carries with him to heaven.
Admittedly, this focus on suffering is met with ambivalence in increasingly diverse Christian cultures, particularly the evangelical traditions that dot our Tennessee communities. But this year, more than perhaps any other in recent history, Christians must recall that the path to Easter Sunday joy cannot exclude the pain of Good Friday.
We cannot be blind. The pain is everywhere. We are constantly bombarded with the sufferings of modern society by a media that seems to present it to us with a perverse enjoyment. The suffering of this past year has played on our television screens, in our communities, at our hospitals, in our homes, and perhaps most hidden to us, in our own lives and our own hearts.
Perhaps the daily onslaught of the pandemic has numbed us to the reality that 12,000 of our neighbors, friends, and fellow Tennesseans have lost their lives to this horrible virus. As history marches on, I ponder that question Pope Francis put forth years ago: “are we a society who has forgotten how to weep?”
Perhaps we've forgotten how to weep because the cross of pain, suffering, and death that afflicts us during these dark times is still somewhat hidden. Yes, Tennessee lost legends John Prine, Joe Diffie, Charley David, and other celebrities to the virus, but the vast majority of the dead were women and men whose names won't be known by history, but whose lives and loss deeply impacted those closest to them.
Perhaps we've become too numb to the pain caused by the invisible violence of a government that time and again failed to serve its people during this health emergency, of an increasingly prevalent unchristian religious culture that pretended to be pro-life, but did so much to destroy it; and of a consumption culture that chose profits over human life and dignity.
It's a violence that first afflicted the poor, that poisoned relationships among Tennesseans, and that allowed for a slow decay of our culture and our way of life. Though it wasn't as noticeable as a bomb or a gunshot, it's now clear its realities were much more deadly.
For a Christian, the cross doesn't just stand as a distant critic. It gives us a sense of who God is. God's Easter logic is to enter into the fullness of human dysfunction, misery, and suffering and redeem all of it. God goes all the way down to bring everyone up. No one is excluded.
That's the compelling story of Christianity. At its best, it isn't simply a spiritual tradition devoid of meaning. It isn't spa therapy to reduce our stress. It's a lived experience that teaches its adherents how to deal with suffering, move forward in hope, and to make progress in ourselves and in our world.
The pandemic's second Easter offers a challenge to us: never again. Never again will we ignore what's going on right in front of our eyes. Never again will we allow ourselves and our government to remain indifferent to death and to misery. And never again will take for granted the gift of human life, livelihood, culture, neighborhoods, and community.
It's pretty clear: Easter without the cross is superficial, just as the cross without the Easter is unnecessarily gloomy. We need both. Today, we're invited to take a new journey. It's a journey that includes suffering and the cross. That road will be uncomfortable, but it isn't sterile. In the middle of ashes, it gives us a chance to reimagine and reconstruct human life and society once again.
And after a year of misery, turmoil, and death, that indeed is incredibly good news